What is yoga?
Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines stretching exercises, controlled breathing and relaxation. It originated thousands of years ago in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It has been adopted in the western world due to its benefits to health and well being.
As yoga has been adopted in the western world, it has shed its religious overtones and become more of an exercise. However, in the course of performing research on the effects of yoga, we have discovered that it fosters a quality that has been determined to be important to psychological health, mindfulness.
Mindfulness is both simple and complex. It is a state of inner calm. It is also a state of full awareness. Perhaps most importantly, it is state of equanimity. Equanimity is defined as" a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience..."of stresses " that may cause others to lose their balance of mind." ( adapted from Wikipedia ). Equanimity has to do with neutrality and resilience.
How can exercises affect one's frame of mind ? Of course it happens though body chemistry. Moreover if yoga is practiced properly, and it leads to feeling better and the relief of discomfort, this helps as well.
Who should practice yoga?
Most healthy people, including pregnant women, can practice yoga. Here is a Mayo clinic list of qualifications:
" See your health care provider before you begin yoga if you have any of the following conditions or situations:
- A herniated disk
- A risk of blood clots
- Deconditioned state
- Eye conditions, including glaucoma
- Severe balance problems
- Severe osteoporosis
- Uncontrolled blood pressure"
Here is the Mayo clinic position on Prenatal Yoga:
" Studies have suggested that prenatal yoga can:
- Improve sleep
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Increase the strength, flexibility and endurance of muscles needed for childbirth
- Decrease lower back pain, nausea, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and shortness of breath
- Decrease the risk of preterm labor, pregnancy-induced hypertension and intrauterine growth restriction — a condition that slows a baby's growth"
- Reference: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/prenatal-yoga/art-20047193?pg=2
What are the different forms of yoga?
Yoga can range from relaxing to demanding. For my part as a physician, I would emphasize that one should not perform any exercise that is painful. As an athlete I realize that there is exertion with exercise, and sometimes discomfort, but there should not be pain. Since a central part of yoga is mindfulness, this means one is to start by accepting one's present state, and NOT FORCE ANYTHING regardless of what any instructor says.
Milder forms of yoga suitable for beginners :
A gentle form of yoga featuring poses more than the breathing exercises
Gentle, detail oriented and slow paced. Emphasis is on learning correct form
Gentle yoga with slow movements; emphasizes mind body awareness
Gentle yoga which includes meditation, breathing techniques, and chanting as well as yoga postures
More strenuous forms of yoga:
Challenging with a nonstop series of yoga poses. Focuses on breathing.
Bikram Yoga, AKA Hot yoga
Challenging, with a sequence of 26 yoga poses in a very hot room, above 100 degrees.
Check with your doctor if you have a medical condition like pregnancy, hypertension or diabetes before starting this "hot" style of yoga.
Challenging flowing yoga that qualifies as cardio, strength training, and perhaps as high intensity interval training as well.
Adapted from WebMD
For a more exhaustive catalog of types of yoga, please see this helpful page on jensreviews.com
What are the risks of yoga?
As with all sports or exercises, yoga done improperly can cause harm. These harms can range from the more common musculoskeletal injuries to the rare spinal or neurological injury. In yoga, undue intensity in the student or the teacher can result in overzealous straining in poses. I was taught long ago in my cool southern California high school PE class that yoga was about " being where you are " . It was the opposite of competition. Of the accounts that I have read of serious yoga injury, it seemed gross imprudence, garden variety overuse or weekend warrior syndrome were the culprits.
Read more HERE.
What are the benefits of yoga?
reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression
reduction in insomnia
reduction in chronic pain
enhancement of mood and overall sense of well being
improvement in balance, flexibility and range of motion
reduction in vulnerability to injury
lowering of blood pressure
improvement in heart function
improvement in immune function
improvement in resilience, attention span and self-regulation
How exactly does yoga work?
Got neurophysiology ?
1. Yoga reduces cortisol secretion which improves our immunity, healing and insulin sensitivity
2. Yoga increases mood enhancing neurotransmitters GABA Serotonin and dopamine. It is therefore a natural antidepressant.
3. Yoga enhances blood flow.
4. Yoga reduces inflammation as evidenced by improved levels of C reactive protein and interleukin 6, which are markers of inflammation.
How can I learn yoga?
It is best to get your introduction to yoga in a popular local class with a fully accredited teacher. The best place to start is probably a community fitness center or health club.
This can be spendy. A reasonable alternative is to spend a much smaller amount on some good beginner yoga DVDs and learn them in the comfort of your own home. My favorite source for these is a company called GAIAM. Please see the yoga section in DVDs in my Amazon store under on the " Retail Therapy " page.
Here is a great article I found on the safety and spirit in yoga: